There have been many times I have found myself complaining to my girlfriends about being single. I often hear things like “You’re so great! Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” as if my singleness is somehow contradicting my apparent "greatness." Comments like these often come from some well-meaning friends or family, which is why I smile graciously and give a courtesy shrug. But inside I always cringe at the little jab wrapped in a compliment. As a college senior, the idea of a "ring by spring" was wreaking havoc on my mind. Did not finding a husband in college doom me to a lifetime alone?
Especially as young women, we are told that in order to be happy we have to have a man by our side; that if we want a fulfilling and successful life we need to be married. Single life is just place holder for something better.
This universal bias against singles isn't just something I'm experiencing. It's a proven fact that our culture observes being coupled, especially married, as a benchmark of everything from happiness to success to selflessness. Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. is a Harvard-educated social psychologist and the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She's also a TED speaker who has proven through her research that singleness puts a person at a cultural disadvantage. She wrote for Psychology Today about her work, saying:
"In a series of studies, my colleagues and I created pairs of brief biographical sketches. The people in the sketches—I’ll call them targets—were identical in every way (e.g., name, age, hometown, interests, job) except that half of the time, the target was said to be single, and the other half, married. Then we asked participants (sometimes college students, sometimes people from the community) to rate the targets."
She continues: "The single people were judged harshly. They were viewed as less happy, less secure, more immature, more fearful of rejection, lonelier, more self-centered, and more envious. Single people were also seen as more independent and career-oriented."
This was hard for me to hear. Not only because I was in that single group being harshly judged, but also because I knew I was guilty of propelling the biases myself from time to time.
As I embarked on my college graduation and the next phase of my life, I knew I couldn't let myself be dragged down (internally or externally) by my relationship status. I had a life to live! So I quickly went about the business of absolving myself from feeling like a boyfriend (or lack thereof) defined me.
Naturally, this was easier said than done.
The best piece of wisdom that helped me to discover that the single life has a real and useful purpose actually came from a letter by Pope Francis called The Joy of Love. In the letter is a line I’ve been pondering since I read it: “the best way to prepare a solid future is to live well in the present.”
Since then I have come to realize that I have a choice in what to do with this time of singleness. Instead of waiting around to be fulfilled by a romantic relationship (which isn’t going to magically happen), I resolved to live life well in the present. I started by diving into my passions, discovering new interests I never knew I had, and most of all, spending time learning to love in my non-romantic relationships.
The Harvard Grant Study backs up what Pope Francis said and it has made sense of the peace and joy I have had in investing in my friends and family. For 75 years, researchers followed 268 Harvard undergraduates tracking what made them truly fulfilled. The study revealed that happiness goes beyond money, power, and even romance. It was indeed relationships that make people truly happy, but not necessarily romantic relationships. George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, told the Huffington Post, “Joy is connection.” True joy and fulfillment comes from love, not just love of a spouse, but connection with all the people around us.
I took this research to heart and started to look for ways to live fully in the present. Last summer I got the chance to form some really close friendships with a group of people I worked with, and I have made a conscious effort to maintain those connections throughout the year. Through the countless hours of conversations and moments of just hanging out with those friends, new doors were opened for me. I was encouraged to delve into my passion for writing, and I even discovered that I had a serious interest in theology. Those discoveries have led me to pursue freelance writing and graduate school for theology, two things that I never would have even thought about before reading that letter or finding that research. By taking this time to live well in my present, I have established a whole new set of goals and a new path for my future.
The point of this time spent not in a relationship is not to make it to the wedding day so I can stop being plagued with the awful feeling of being single. This time that I am single is a time of purpose. I have so much to offer the world, and it isn’t any less valid just because I’m not in a relationship. Being single now does not mean that all I’m living for is to finally make it to marriage, as if it is some sort of finish line to this race that I never signed up for. Most importantly, I learned that I don’t need to wait around for Mr. Right to come cure me, because I am Miss Right Now, and married or unmarried, that won’t change.
Photo Credit: Erin Woody